The 2018-19 season opener was big for redshirt junior Lamarr Kimble. The team captain scored 14 points and added two rebounds and three assists to help his team to a 79-64 win, but the most important aspect of that game was simpler.
Kimble was healthy. After missing all but one game last season with a fractured foot and the final seven games of the 2016-17 season with the same injury, being able to play in this year’s season opener was a great feeling.
“That was a good day personally for me, just being able to get out there and complete a full game,” Kimble said. “That game right there was more like, I wouldn’t say overwhelming, but I had a lot of emotions. They were all positive emotions, and after that, it all kind of came together, when I was able to sit down and realize, ‘You just played your first game in like a year and a half.’”
The 6-foot point guard first fractured the fifth metatarsal of his left foot in a game against Massachusetts in 2017. He was ready to play in time for the 2017-18 season, but suffered the same injury in the opener, sidelining him for the rest of the year.
Physically, the recovery process was the same both times: surgery, then a few months without walking, then wearing a boot, then walking, and finally transitioning back to sports. Mentally, the injuries were different.
The first time he fractured his foot was the first time Kimble sustained a serious, season-ending injury.
“It was rough,” Kimble said. “My mom was at the game the first time that it happened, and I was in the back of the training room crying, more because I couldn’t play for my team for the rest of the year. I wanted to be there for those guys, but I couldn’t at that moment, so that was a really rough thing for me, having to watch what they go through every day and I’m just on the side, not being able to do anything.”
Looking back on it, Kimble realizes he should have been more patient during his recovery. That’s easier said than done, though, especially when it’s your first serious injury. Kimble just wanted to get back on the court as soon as he could and wasn’t as focused on things like lifting.
When he fractured his foot last season, Kimble knew he needed to take a different approach to his recovery, specifically by being more patient and working on his body. The timing of last season’s injury also meant that Kimble could participate in full conditioning coming into this season, which made the transition back easier.
It also helped Kimble better develop his body over the summer. Conditioning and losing weight were just a part of that, though. Kimble also improved his diet and sleeping habits so he could feel better overall.
“Changing everything, changing your diet, that’s not easy to do, especially growing up a certain way, you don’t know what nutrition is, kind of, until you really get to that point in your life,” Kimble said. “It has been incredible in terms of change and how I feel each day, just staying away from all the food that we like to eat but isn’t good for us.”
Kimble also tweaked some of the mechanics of his shot, but most of his improvements came from developing his body. Through the first 16 games of the season, Kimble was averaging 16.3 points per game, a career high. He had also improved his field goal and free throw percentages.
Getting back to practices at the start of the year felt good, and he hadn’t been nervous about getting back on the court. It was shaping up to be a great season for Kimble.
Then, the Hawks went to play at Duquesne. Fellow redshirt junior Pierfrancesco Oliva went down with a serious knee injury midway through the first half, and the Hawks caught another tough break in the second half.
“I think it was around 14 minutes, I went to the basket on a transition fast break, and I went to go up on the right side off my right foot with my right hand, and I got hit on the right side of my body and it kind of made me tumble over and I fell on my hand,” Kimble said. “I’m not sure how I fell on my hand. I didn’t watch the tape of it, so I don’t know if it was backwards or if I landed on it.”
Regardless, Kimble had to sub out while senior Chris Clover took the free throws. Kimble did come back to play in the game, but the pain made it clear – something was wrong.
Kimble’s hand was fractured. It wouldn’t require as long of a recovery period as his foot needed, but it was still tough. He spent three or four weeks in a splint to ensure everything healed properly. Then, Kimble had to get used to using his hand again.
Kimble is right-handed, but the splint meant he needed to do nearly everything left-handed for a while. He rebuilt the strength and feeling in his right hand through using stress balls and dribbling tennis balls while also getting used to doing everyday activities right-handed again. After sitting out for 10 games, Kimble was cleared to return to the court.
For someone who had never had a serious injury until recently, it would be easy to get discouraged with three injuries in three seasons. That’s not who Kimble is, though. The injuries motivate him to be the best he can be.
“Once you get injured, your name kind of falls off. No one is talking about you anymore,” Kimble said. “As I’ve developed these injuries, I’ve learned more and more about who my closest friends are, my family, and that’s motivated me to play harder and play more out there. Not for anybody else in the world, but for me and my friends and family who have stuck by me during times that I couldn’t play.”
Kimble has another season of eligibility and plans to stay on Hawk Hill. He knows he’ll graduate this year, so he has a few academic options he and his advisors will consider.
However all that plays out, you can be sure of one thing: Lamarr Kimble will be back on the court, working and playing harder than ever.